Author Archives: martha

Hurricane Sandy kills at least 65 in the Caribbean

As the East Coast of the U.S. braces itself for Hurricane Sandy today – with businesses, schools and transport systems shut down and mass evacuations taking place – severe damage has already been wrecked by Sandy on the Caribbean, with Haiti the worst hit. At least 51 people have died in Haiti, and more than 2,000 people had to be evacuated due to extremely heavy rains and flooding.

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy (Jennette's Pier in Nags Head - Hurricane Sandy by County of Dare)

Many of the deaths occurred in the area around the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, where 370,000 Haitians are still living in temporary shelters following the deadly 2010 earthquake.

Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica were also affected. In Cuba, eleven were reported to have been killed, with two more people dead in the Dominican Republic and one in Jamaica. All three countries also experienced severe damage to and destruction of thousands of homes.

Survivors of Andes plane crash mark 40th anniversary

The surviving members of a Uruguayan rugby team have marked the 40th anniversary of the Andes plane crash that killed their teammates by finally taking part in the match they should have played four decades ago. The 16 survivors were among 45 passengers – including members of the Old Christian Club rugby team from Montevideo, Uruguay – who, on October 13th 1972, were on a flight from Uruguay to Santiago, Chile, where the rugby team were due to play a match against a Chilean side.

Roberto Canessa, one of the men who trekked for 10 days to find help (Photo: 100 primeros dias de la Primera Dama by Gobierno de Chile)

They never made the match, however, as their plane crashed on the remote mountain border between Argentina and Chile. The 16 famously survived for for 72 days in the mountains by eating the bodies of the dead passengers, before finally being rescued after two of the 16 trekked for 10 days to find help. To mark the 40th anniversary, the remaining team members once again traveled to Santiago, where they played Old Gregorian, the Chilean team they would have played back in 1972, drawing 1-1. They also met with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, and held a minute’s silence to remember those who died.

Ecuador and the U.K fail to reach an agreement over Julian Assange

Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino met with British Foreign Secretary William Hague this week at the United Nations in New York, to discuss the case of WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange. Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June of this year, and he was officially granted diplomatic asylum by Ecuador on 16th August. He has been unable to leave the embassy however, as he faces immediate arrest by the British authorities.

Julian Assange (by acidpolly)

Assange is wanted in Sweden, where officials have issued a European Arrest Warrant for him with regard to allegations of sex offences, which he denies. Assange believes that, if he does return to Sweden, he will be extradited to the United States to face questioning over the 2010 publishing of classified war documents and diplomatic cables, which he fears could result in a lengthy prison sentence or even the death penalty.

Foreign Secretary William Hague by Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Hague and Patino failed to come to an agreement however during their meeting on last Thursday, 27th September. The British Foreign Secretary’s spokesman reported that Hague told Patino how “the UK was under an obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden.” Patino told reporters after the meeting that “we still do not see, of course, an immediate solution, but we understand that there is a willingness to discuss the topic.”

Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera captured in Venezuela

One of Colombia’s most powerful drug barons has been captured in neighboring Venezuela. Colombian president Juan Manual Santos reported that Daniel Barrera, also known as El Loco and Crazy Barrera, was arrested in San Cristobal, Venezuela, 24 kilometers (15 miles) from the Colombian border, on Tuesday 18th September. Barrera, who had alliances with both FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and paramilitary groups, has been involved in drug trafficking in Colombia for over 20 years; he has been described as one of Colombia’s most wanted drug lords, and the boss of Eastern Colombia’s drug trade. Barrera had previously gone to extreme lengths to avoid capture, including having plastic surgery and burning his fingertips with acid.

President Juan Manuel Santos reported Barrera's capture (Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos by Connect2GDNet)

Barrera’s capture was the result of collaboration between U.S., British, Venezuelan and Colombian authorities, with the U.S. offering a $5 million award for information leading to his arrest. Barrera’s is the third detention of a Colombian drug baron this year, a reminder of Colombia’s progress in the past decade: in 2010,  the U.S. State Department declared that security conditions in the country had improved significantly. Tourist numbers have increased greatly in the past few years, from 0.5 million in 2003 to 1.4 million in 2010.

Guatemalan volcano erupts, forces thousands to flee

A volcano in southern Guatemala erupted violently this week in what is said to be its biggest eruption since 1999. On Thursday morning (September 13th), the Volcán del Fuego, which sits 31 miles south-west of the capital Guatemala City, began propelling huge clouds of ash over 3 kilometers (2 miles) high. It also spewed rivers of hot lava and gases for over 600 meters (2000 feet). Ash clouds were said to have spread for 80 kilometers (50 miles) south and south-east of the volcano, leaving the area in almost total darkness and forcing the evacuation of several nearby villages. Around 33,000 people were ordered to evacuate, though some chose to stay in their homes. By late Thursday, the eruptions were said to be dying down, and officials were hoping that evacuees would soon be able to return to their communities. No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, but several people have had to be treated for respiratory and eye problems.

Volcan de Fuego erupts (Volcán de Fuego haciendo erupción, septiembre 13, 2012 by Rudy A. Girón

This is by no means the first time the 3,763 meter (12,346 foot) volcano (whose name translates as Volcano of Fire) has erupted. It is in an almost constant active state, usually emitting smoke on a daily basis, and has already erupted five times this year, though this month’s eruption is said to be the largest in over a decade. It is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America.


Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez suffering from dementia

Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia’s most prolific author, is suffering from dementia, his brother Jaime García Márquez has revealed. The 85 year-old Nobel prize-winning writer, who has lived in Mexico for the past 50 years, is sadly no longer able to write as a result of his condition, and is losing his memory. Jaime reported that the chemotherapy that García Márquez received for lymphatic cancer, which he contracted in 1999, may have brought on an early onset of dementia, which runs in the family.

Gabriel García Márquez (by mansionwb)

García Márquez was born in 1927 in Aracataca, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, to Gabriel Eligio García and Luisa Santiaga Márquez. Aged nine, he moved south to Sucre to be reunited with his parents, who had left him to be raised by his maternal grandparents (until the death of his grandfather in 1936). He studied law, then initially worked as a journalist before turning his hand to writing novels. His first novel, Leaf Storm, was published in 1955, and his last, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, in 2004. His most well-known novels include One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and Love in the time of Cholera (1985). García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.

Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez (by Colombia Travel)

Travelers to Colombia can follow in the footsteps of García Márquez by visiting the Casa Museo Gabriel García Márquez in Aracataca, the carefully-restored house where he grew up (and the inspiration for One Hundred Years of Solitude). Another point of interest is the Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez in Bogota, a cultural center devoted to the author, which includes a library, art gallery, auditorium, bookstores, cafés, and several open spaces.

Find out more about Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

Colombian volcano, Nevado del Ruiz, erupts; authorities warn of further eruptions

Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz volcano, which sits in the Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados in the Zona Cafetera (or “Coffee zone”), 130 kilometers (80 mi) west of Bogota, erupted last Saturday, 30 June, after months of volcanic activity. The brief eruption took place at 5.37 p.m. local time, when the volcano expelled a 9.5 kilometer (6 mi) cloud of smoke, ash and gases, resulting in the evacuation of thousands of locals in the surrounding area and the suspension of commercial flights from the nearby towns of Armenia, Manizales and Pereira.

Nevado del Ruiz ("Nevado del Ruiz nos saludo 2" by Dr EG)

Fortunately, there have been no reports of injuries or damage to property, but authorities have warned that a further eruption is probable. Though the volcanic activity alert has now been lowered to orange after it was declared red following the eruption, scientists at the Vulcan and and Seismological Observatory in nearby Manizales say that the volcano continues to emit gases and ash, and that “new eruptions cannot be ruled out”. The recent activity is a nasty reminder of the deadly power of the 5321 meter (17,457 ft) volcano: on November 13 1985, a massive avalanche of mud and debris, caused by a small eruption, destroyed the town of Armero, killing an estimated 25,000 people. Avoid the area where possible, and keep up-to-date with travel and safety alerts: the website of the Manizales Vulcan and Seismological Observatory has daily updates (Spanish only), or check the Colombia travel advice page of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Find out more about Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

Colombia's Wayuu tribe celebrate their annual cultural festival

Last week the Wayuu tribe, an ethnic group from the Guajira Penisula on Colombia’s north-east Caribbean coast, celebrated their 26th annual Festival de la Cultura Wayuu – Wayuu’s Cultural Festival. The festival, which takes place in the town of Uribia (the Wayuu’s largest settlement), is a demonstration and promotion of the Wayuu’s traditional rituals, customs, skills, socialization, music, and more. This year’s theme was the La Cocina Wayuu – Wayuu’s cuisine. The three-day event included cultural talks and lectures, music and dance presentations, plays, exhibits, the popular traditional games (think horse and donkey racing, wrestling, archery, and stone-throwing) and, of course, offerings of typical Wayuu dishes – particularly goat, which forms a principle part of the cuisine.

A Wayuu Ranch (Rancheria Wayúu by Tanenhaus)

The Wayuu, who number approximately 145,000 in Colombia (and around another 293,000 in neighboring Venezuela), are divided into 16 clans, each with its own territory, symbol and animal. The Wayuu language is Wayuunaiki; new generations also speak Spanish however, but much importance is placed on the preservation of the native language. Though the tribe follow traditional gender roles (women are responsible for the household chores and taking care of the children, while men fish, rear goats and fetch firewood), Wayuu identification is passed on through the women: the youngest daughter inherits property, and, in cases of alijuna (marriage with a non-Wayuu), the child is only Wayuu if the mother is. Women are also the leaders of Wayuu society.

Wayuu women weaving traditional handicrafts (On The Road Again Día 4: Cabo de la vela-Manaure-Santa Marta by pattoncito)

Find out more about Colombia and its indigenous groups in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

On your marks: Colombia's whale season has begun

Whale-watching season has arrived in Colombia, and one of the best places in the country to see these beautiful marine mammals is Bahía Solano, on the northern Pacific Coast. The months of June to October see hundreds of humpback whales migrate north to the warm, tropical Colombian waters to mate, breed and begin to raise their young.

Humpback whale by flickkerphotos

During this time, the town of Bahía Solano, protected by a vast bay, is descended upon by countless (mainly Colombian) tourists eager to spot whales. Book accommodation in advance; you’ll find a number of hostels and eco-hotels varying in budget and quality. During whale season, the annual birthing and migrating patterns of the humpback whales make the large mammals so abundant that they are sometimes visible from shore. If you want to get a little closer, take one of the daily tours organized by the many hotels. Sports fishing and diving are also popular activities here.

Bahía Solano (184360_JV4_bahia_solano_portada by Colombia Travel)

Unless you want to hire a boat, the only way to get to Bahía Solano is to take a domestic flight from Medellin (a round-trip costs from $200). If you’re looking for a more accessible place to whale-watch, hop on a bus from Cali to the port of Buenaventura. Hurry on from here (the town has a deservedly nasty reputation) and onto one of the nearby whale-watching hot-spots: Juanchaco, Ladrilleros or Isla Gorgona.

Find out more about whale-watching, Bahía Solano and Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.


Bogotá's 5 best vegetarian restaurants

In a country whose unofficial national dish is the bandeja paisa –  a meat-heavy platter that includes pork, ground beef and sausage – it can be a little difficult to find vegetarian-friendly fare. However, Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá, has a surprising number of restaurants dedicated to vegetarians and lovers of vegetarian cuisine. Here are our top five veggie picks:

  • Boulevard Sésamo (Av. Jiminez, 4-64). A popular vegetarian haunt offering budget-priced lunches, Boulevard Sésamo has speedy service, a salad bar, vegan options and vegetarian versions of typical Colombian comfort food.
  • La Esquina (Ca. 9, 60-91, Chapinero). A light and airy second-floor restaurant with impressively attentive service and some of the best vegetarian sancocho soup around (sancocho is a hearty stew that combines plantains, pumpkin, yucca, potatoes, garlic and cilantro). Packed with plenty of fresh herbs, La Esquina’s food is far from the insipid veggie stereotype.
  • Loto Azul (Ca. 5a, 14-02, La Candelaria). For more than two decades Loto Azul has been serving up delightful vegetarian dishes to both Bogotanos and foreigners. Besides whipping up set-menus accompanied by a fresh salad bar, there’s vegetarian lasagnas, sandwiches and buffets.

Quinua & Amaranto, Bogota (Quinua & Amaranto - Bogotá, La Candeleria 2006 by hannah_y_juan)

  • Pan de Nobles (Ca. 9, 60-91). Downstairs from La Esquina is Pan de Nobles, an excellent vegan bakery with a vegan take-out restaurant just across the road.  Try the restaurant’s incredible vegan burgers.
  • Quinua y Amaranto (Ca. 11,2-95). Located in the historic La Candelaria neighborhood, the charming and atmospherically decorated Quinua y Amaranto gets pretty packed due to its popularity. Great tortilla española (Spanish omelet) and balanced set menus.
Find out more about Bogotá, Colombian cuisine and Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.